This is a reprint of an E-Book I put together a while ago. If you find this information handy, I encourage you to download the PDF here. The PDF has better pictures allowing for a better understanding of the walkthrough example. Either way I hope it helps you
How To Read DoD Pubs For the Newbie
The first time your crack open a DOD pub you will probably be very daunted by how the information is displayed and could get quite confused, thinking it says one thing when
in reality you are in the wrong section, so what you are reading does not apply to your particular case. This tutorial is meant to be a guide to the newbie in order to help you navigate the pub quickly and ensure that you are getting accurate information on whatever system or process you happen to be researching. Practical examples are given whenever possible.
First Things First: the parts of a DOD pub.
- Title – All DOD pubs have a title which describes their general purpose. For instance, SECNAV INSTRUCTION 1920.6C is titled “ADMINISTRATIVE SEPARATION OF OFFICERS”. This title is found either at the top of the pub or in the SUBJ: line. Some pubs even have a long and a short title, but can be referred to by either in conversation.
- Series Number – all DOD pubs have a series number attached to them. The technical term for these numbers is the Standard Subject Identification Code. In the example, the series is SECNAV INST 1920.6C. The series number is how the pub is organized and filed in Code of Federal Regulations and is a distinct document number. There is only one version of the 1920.6C. The name and number tell us a lot about the pub itself even without seeing the title. Firstly, this is a SECNAV instruction, so it only cover people in the Navy or Marine Corps. If we wanted to find about the US Air Force, we would have to see the reference section for the DOD pub which this publication covers (In this case DoD Instruction 1332.30 of 11 Dec 2008, among others, see references section below for more info). This number is at the top right of every single page. The series number will almost always include a letter at the end of it, “C” in this case. This is a version control mechanism. When the new version is trasmited, then you will know if you are reading a SECNAV INST 1920.6C then it is outdated, find the “Delta” version. However, if you have a “Charlie” version sitting on your desktop at work, you might not know that the SECNAV just signed Delta last night. This is a good reason to always us online resources to get your pubs so that you can be sure you are using the most up to date version. As soon as Delta is signed, you can be sure that PERS will take down the links to Charlie and replace it with Delta. I will always try to stay on top of any evolving situations here at Officers Farewell, but always make sure you are using up to date pubs when requesting/arguing for anything. Lastly, they do not pick the numbers for these instructions at random. There is a delineated order to all the pubs. SECNAV Manual M-5210.2 tells you all the categories a pub could fall under and where new instructions should fit into the numbering system. For instance, any Military Personnel pubs will be between 1000-1999.
- References – This may actually be the most important section of every pub. It gives you the background on where the information inside it is coming from.
Usually these are higher order publications. For instance, in our example, this pub references the DODI 1332.30 among other DODI’s. These pubs set the groundwork and rules that the SECNAVINST must follow in this area. It is important to read these references and the references in the references to get a stable background on how your particular case stands. Also realize that the DODI is superior to the SECNAVINST (the Sec Def, who signed the DODI, is the boss of the Sec Nav), so this document takes priority if there are any discrepancies between the two. This does not usually happen, but realize that it was probably some terminal O-4 who actually wrote the SECNAVINST and maybe his boss did not catch whatever error he put in so it might be worth your time to read through the appropriate sections of the higher order pubs.
- Change Transmittals – Usually these come before the major portion of the pub and detail small changes to specific parts. They will also be included in the actual body. If a major change happens, a new version will be issued (see above), so these are usually little details or typo corrections. Our example is currently on change 4 (CH-4) . Can you find where this is delineated?
Now that you know the parts you are ready for the main text. Kind of…
The Meat – You may think that once you have the basics at the top learned, you would be able to read these pubs like a book; however, there are some pitfalls when reading these pubs. Here I will go over a few.
- The “CTRL-F” – This may be the most common mistake, especially for newbies. This pitfall happens when you start reading the pub and then get super bored with whatever section you are in, so you say “F*%$ this, I’m wasting my time” and go straight for the find function. You search for what you want and read the first line that comes up. The best way to understand this pitfall is through practical example, so follow along with me. On page 42 of the PDF (enclosure (3) page 15) you will find this section:
- Let’s say you were scrolling along and found this section, and thought this applied to you because you didn’t read anything before it. Well, you would probably be wrong, it doesn’t apply to you because in bullet above it, you will see that –
This applies to Naval Reserve FTS officers on active duty, which is more than likely not you. The point being that these pubs are nested. If you find something that looks like it applies to you, make sure that the above headings say that it applies to you. It applies to something totally different.
- Outdated Pubs – I touched on this above, but make sure you do your digging in current pubs otherwise you will have to go back through and make sure that mothering changed, this will be a large pain in the ass.
- Not Following the Trail – Sometimes a section will refer back to another section of the same or different pub.
In this case, the pub is referring back to section 14504, 14513, and 12686 of reference (b), DODI 1332.30. If you find something like this in a section specific to you, you should find the other pub and see what it is referring to. Once when I was researching something in the JTR (Joint Travel Regulations), my particular situation was covered by a rabbit trail 5 or 6 references deep. If this starts happening to you I would recommend getting out a pad and paper and writing down the path using a flow chart. This will help you keep it all organized in your brain and keep you from wasting too much time.
- Further nesting – Underneath the references, you will find enclosures. It is in the enclosures where you will usually find the bulk of the information. The base document more often than not is just a brief overview. Like all nested information, make sure that the enclosure relates to what you are looking for.
In closing, the DoD publications system allows for a vast amount of information to be referenced by thousands of people across multiple services, but if you don’t know how that information is organized or presented, you set yourself up for failure. Hopefully this E-book has given you the basics so you can get into whatever pub is in front of you and find the information that you need.